The Blooms are Alright

I now turn the reins over to reader Chris Gregory, for a special Bloomsday post. Enjoy!

June 16th, or, as I like to call it, Bloomsday, the day on which the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses take place, has come and gone once more. I wrote a short post on it the summer I interned at One Story a few years ago. Yet, this Bloomsday more than others, it seems appropriate that we take some time to consider what many scholars consider to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, and perhaps ever. You see, a few days ago, the New York Times reported that Apple had required the creators of “Ulysses Seen,” a graphic novelization of Joyce’s epic, to remove panels from the comic containing a woman’s exposed breasts in order for their app version of the book to be accepted into the Apple app store.

This wasn’t necessarily a case of targeted discrimination on Apple’s part, but rather a result of company policy. Tipping our collective hats to wired.com, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, has famously been quoted as saying “We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.” Jobs said this in addressing the controversy over Apple banning an app for viewing the work of Pulitzer Prize winning Cartoonist Mark Fiore. Apple has since rescinded Fiore’s rejection, and, before you get angry over the Ulysses ban, they’ve also rescinded their editorial notes to “Ulysses Seen,” according to an update from the Times.

Perhaps Apple realized the irony in censoring a book that was at the center of one of the most important obscenity cases in US legal history. If we’re to believe the novel’s Wikipedia page, in 1921 an issue of The Little Review containing the Nausicaa chapter, which depicts the main character, Leopold Bloom, masturbating, was declared obscene by a US court, resulting in the book being banned from the United States. In 1933, Random House tried to import a copy of the book from the UK and, when the book was seized by customs, contested the seizure. “In United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled… that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene.” Some editions of Ulysses today contain a handy dandy copy of this decision for anyone interested.

Now, these two cases are a bit different. The 1933 decision was a confirmation of Ulysses’s protection under the First Amendment. The Apple app store, on the other hand, is a private club of sorts, and any woman who has ever tried to join the country club at Augusta can tell us that private clubs with discriminating membership requirements are also protected under the First Amendment. Furthermore, I don’t want this article to be a castigation of Apple, especially since they’ve made the correct decision in the end by letting the offending panels remain untouched. Rather, I think use this occasion to remember how lucky we are to have books like Ulysses, and maybe even take the time to read just a chapter or two. I’m proud to say that I’ve made it through the entire book, though I’ll admit it was required reading for a college course. I guess the moral of the story, for me at least, is that we should take comfort in this book that has overcome so many obstacles in the past to reach our nightstands. It’s good to know that what is beautiful in our world cannot be suppressed. So don’t worry for Poldy and Molly. They’ll be okay in the end. They always have been.

Author’s Note: I tried to quote as little from these articles as possible because I’d like the reader to actually click on the links and read the different articles. There’s a lot more pertinent information in each article. These people are paid to do good reporting, and I don’t want to undermine their efforts by giving away the best parts while depriving them of the page views.

Issue #132: The Quietest Man

For issue #132, “The Quietest Man,” I’m turning the reins over to Tanya Rey, our managing editor, who stepped in as issue editor for this fantastic new story by Molly Antopol. Enjoy!–Hannah

Growing up, people in my family always told stories about living under Batista, then Castro, in Cuba. My grandfather was an underground politician—anti-Batista—and it was politics, my aunts said, that ruined things for everyone. But I saw the way my grandfather sat up a little straighter whenever the subject was brought up. I knew that for him, it was politics that had made his life. His work had been so important to him he’d split his family for it, sending off his only son for what would become ten years, two marriages and two grandchildren, before he and my grandmother could make it to the states. And if anyone had bothered to ask him if he regretted any of it, I’m sure he would only allude to the fact that power is still in the wrong hands in Cuba.

In this way, when I first read “The Quietest Man” I felt that I could immediately understand a man like our protagonist, Tomas Novak—a man willing to risk his life for thousands of strangers in the name of revolution, yet incapable of identifying with those closest to him. He is a dissident first, father last, searching for inclusion and validation in places that no longer exist. His daughter Daniela is seeking similar things in a place that has been closed off from her. So by the time Tomas tells us “Part of me was saddened that my daughter was the kind of person who would crack so quickly, that the wall she’d built around herself could be so easily kicked down…” we understand his version of disappointment, because this is what his life’s work has been about: building impenetrable walls around himself. And the fact that his daughter is the one to help him find a new place for that validation and maybe begin kicking down those walls, offers a hopeful ending to a great story.

“The Quietest Man” is about censorship and recognition, yet ultimately it is the story of a father and daughter inadvertently building a bridge between two worlds. Author Molly Antopol never tells us whether or not the bridge will actually be crossed, but watching them build it is well worth reading for. I welcome Molly to our family of authors here at One Story, and look forward to reading many more of her stories to come. Read the Q&A with Molly to find out more about how she wrote “The Quietest Man,” and please feel free to share your thoughts with other readers.

Report on The Story Prize

Here to report on The Story Prize reading and award ceremony is Amin Ahmad, admirer of the short story and friend of One Story. You may recall Amin’s Valentines’ Day blogpost about how One Story helped spark a relationship between him and his current wife.

I was sitting right behind Daniyal Mueenuddin  in a dark Manhattan auditorium when he was announced the winner of the $20,000 Story Prize.

Mueeenuddin (author of the short story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders) continued to sit in his seat, either too shy or too exhausted to respond. Only when nudged by his companion did he bound onto the stage. Even then, the author was self effacing and modest—mumbling thanks to his agent and his late mother—before quickly leaving the stage.

And so the two-hour long program of readings and conversation came abruptly to an end, the largest prize in the short story world awarded almost as an afterthought. (The two runner-ups were awarded $5000 each.) As for me, I was left with many questions about the short story and its role in our lives.

Earlier that evening, Daniyal Mueenuddin had read an excerpt from his story “Saleema”, about a voluptuous young girl servant employed in the household of a rural Pakistani landlord. Mueenuddin described Saleema’s seduction by the various cooks she had worked with, ending with the line, “These experiences had not cracked her hard skin, but made her sensual, unscrupulous—and romantic.”

It was the sudden twist at the end of the sentence that made me sit up and listen.

I too, like Mueenuddin, grew up in a similar Indian household peopled by masters and servants. And I knew that the poorer our servants were, the more they tended towards extravagant gestures—an entire month’s salary spent on a violently colored sweater, the prettier maids inevitably carrying on histrionic affairs with the chauffeurs.

But I had never realized—until I heard Mueenuddin read–how reality and fantasy converge. The poorer you are, he seemed to be saying, the more you need romance.

Mueenuddin himself, during a conversation with Larry Dark, had come clean. “You can either be a pessimist or a romantic,” he’d said. “I prefer to be a romantic. Life is more fun that way.”

He was being funny, but that insight, in his writing, was hard earned. His stories captured perfectly the hard, cruel world of rural Pakistan, where people jockeyed and jostled to survive. That might have been enough for another writer, but Mueenuddin excavated even deeper, finding  hidden lives buried deep within the heads of characters like Saleema the maid.

Mueenuddin lives part-time in rural Pakistan, managing a farm he inherited from his father.  He is part of a tightly-knit feudal world;“Some of the servants in our family have been with us for fifty or sixty years,” he said. Living in Pakistan has given him so much material that he has “pages and pages” of notes for short stories. For him, life and writing are interwoven: the characters in his stories live and breathe around him.

For the other two finalists in the Story Prize competition, the relationship between reality and fantasy is more complicated.

Victoria Patterson (Drift) has set her book of short stories in Newport Beach, California. She read an excerpt from “John Wayne Loves Grandma Dot”, a story about a handsome, brain-damaged skateboarder named John Wayne. In a later conversation, Patterson said she wanted to take the iconography of Newport Beach—including the myth of tough-guy movie-star John Wayne, who lived there—and stand it on its head.  So instead of a heavy lidded, sneering cowboy, she created an outcast who lives secretly above the garage of Grandma Dot. Grandma, sensing his presence, leaves him money and beer. Their two lives are lived out at a remove; John Wayne sneaks into Grandma’s kitchen at night and makes sandwiches, smells her presence, watches her from afar. In the excerpt Paterson read, the two characters never physically touch.

In the Newport Beach that Patterson constructs, fantasy (her borrowing of a mythic movie-star moniker, the ghostly dance of the two characters) seems the only way to bridge the gap between people. When community is shattered, and individuals are left isolated and washed up, the only way to connect seems to be in the imagination. In its own way, Patterson’s is a chilling vision, as frightening as the dream-lives of brutalized Pakistani peasants.

Wells Tower (Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned) takes fantasy to a different level. Tower read an excerpt from the title story, featuring a trio of Viking raiders. (In his rendition, the Vikings are treated as contemporary Americans; they even speak with cornpone Southern accents.) The Vikings come across a man in a field who has been raided so many times that all he has left is a stove, and his beautiful but one-armed daughter. (A previous set of Vikings, we learn, cut her arm off.)

In the dangerous dance that develops out of this comedy, one of the Vikings falls in love with the girl, who, one-armed, knows that she has little chance of getting a man. It all ends with the daughter carried off willingly, her father pushed to the ground, now completely bereft.

In conversation, Tower said that he wrote the story as a release from the rigors of writing within the confines of graduate school. As a clever joke, he yoked together the hopeless situation of a Raymond Carver short story with a bunch of cartoony Vikings. Much to his surprise, he tricked himself into caring about the characters.

And despite the loud laughs of the audience, we cared too. Tower had pulled off a literary sleigh-of-hand, transporting us into an alternate, fantastic universe; then he set us down with a bump, and it hurt.

I left the Story Prize with one comment ringing in my head. When Mueenuddin was asked how the servants and workers on his farm felt about his writing, he paused. “They’re embarrassed by it,” he said.

I understood perfectly what he meant. In a world where labor is real, brutal and hard, writing doesn’t seem like work. Sitting alone in a room and making up stories is seen as something frivolous, tainted, not respectable. It’s the reaction I get when I return to India and tell people I’m a writer.

But sitting in a room somewhere (in real, rural Pakistan, in a re-created Newport Beach, in the overheated literary atmosphere of a graduate program) is what Mueenuddin, Patterson and Tower do. They reveal, in their own ways, the hidden  intersections between reality and fantasy.

The lives we thought were so solid and real, they show us, are shot through with fantasies. Our lives, they seem to say, are really just stories that we tell ourselves. I for one, am grateful for the insight.

NEA’s The Big Read podcast now available on iTunes

Earlier this week Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti recorded a short audio piece for the upcoming issue of NEARTS about how One Story functions. In 2005 the NEA launched the nation’s largest reading program, The Big Read. TBR is like a one-town / one-book program where, for one month, an entire city designs their own original programming in order to encourage that city to read whatever book they selected. Now, as part of the program, they are recording half-hour long audio documentaries all about great books. Each program discusses one book, and includes discussion on the book and author, readings by a famous actor, and accompanying music. Download the podcasts on iTunes, or subscribe to them via The Big Read site.

Some past shows include Ed Harris reading from Grapes of Wrath and Mary Louise Parker reading from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The Big Read was designed to curtail the decline of reading among Americans, and revive reading as both a pasttime and a means of education. Along with these half-hour audio pieces, the program includes innovative readings across the country.

One Story: making love happen since 2002

Last week at The New York Society Library reading, a gentleman by the name of Amin Ahmad approached Hannah and me and told us that One Story is the reason he and his wife had gotten together. Naturally, we were all ears.

Anyone that knows the One Story staff, or watched us deliver valentines in wings at the AWP conference last year, can attest to the fact that we here are fans of love. So we asked Amin to write his story, just in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s a great story, and we feel honored to be a part of it.

We sat on a wooden bench, drinking tea and looking at the dark river.  It was very hot; the woman I’d just met was sweating, and so was I, but it was impossible to acknowledge that fact.  It seemed like a typical first date, full of polite questions and silences.  Yet it wasn’t.

The personals ad she’d placed on-line was a list of her favorite authors.  A strange mixture: Neruda, Paz, Murakami, Marquez. Exactly the same books I lived by, all the paperbacks I’d read on sleepy afternoons in India.  I replied to her, and the emails started flying.  At work, I set aside blueprints in order to write to her. We branched off into poetry. I sent her my favorite poems by William Carlos Williams, she introduced me to Sharon Olds. We were two people thirsty for literary conversation.  Underlying it all was the unasked question- would we actually meet?

I was busy at work. She was just finishing law school. Six long weeks passed. I held my breath and told her what I had withheld: that I was already married.  I had no business writing to her.  My marriage was desperately unhappy, a complete mismatch, but I had a four-year old son, and wasn’t going anywhere. She didn’t flinch. This fact seemed unrelated to the conversation we were having, about books and stories and poems. It seemed inconceivable that our conversation—so far removed from real life—would end.

We decided to meet, once. Almost as though to get it over with.  I’d imagined her to be a tall, blonde woman, wearing Birkenstocks, recently returned from the Peace Corps. (Where else would she have developed such a taste for Latin American authors?) She turned out to be an African-American woman with curly hair she wore severely pulled back.  She’d imagined that I was tall and had a ponytail and wore dark clothes. I turned out to be short, with neatly parted hair and wore a pale cotton shirt.

So there we were on the park bench, afraid to look at each other. We sipped our too-hot teas and sweated and looked out into the darkness.  It was soon time for us to go. We got up from the bench, our clothes sticking to our skins.

Outside the Harvard Bookstore we prepared to part, making the non-committal noises of people who are never going to see each other again. Misery mixed in with relief.  Within a few minutes this poetic, literary woman was going to vanish into the bright lights of the bookstore.  The kind of woman I’d been dreaming about my whole life. But that’s what it was: a dream.

Before she left, she opened her handbag and took out a small, plain looking pamphlet with a blue cover.

“Hey,” she said. “I almost forgot. I brought this for you. Have you read it? This one is pretty good. You can borrow it.”

I thanked her for the pamphlet, and read it on the train home. It was a magazine I’d never heard of before, with a single story in it.  Something about a man whose job it is to imagine worst case scenarios.  The story was so ingenious it made me laugh.

I had borrowed the pamphlet from her, so I had to return it. We met again, an easier meeting this time. The months passed, and we walked all over town, talking and talking. The heat dissipated, gave way to the crisp air of Fall, and we were still at it.  Every month the small pamphlet with its single story arrived. She took them out of her handbag with a solemn air, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  I carried them around, creased and crumpled, easily hidden, like the emotions that flowed between the two of us.

The One Storys kept coming each month, through the years that followed: the ghastly years of my divorce, a terrible sickness, years when we clung to each other.  Then, like the imperceptible change of seasons, we were on the other side of it, married, living a life we hadn’t dared to dream of.

Now, when the story comes each month, we each read it separately. It’s only when we’re outside that one of us will say, “So what did you think…”, and we’re off, doing what we do best, walking and talking, talking, talking.

One Story editor Elliott Holt in Guernica!

Elliott Holt, our very own contributing editor, has a new story published in a special issue of Guernica edited by Claire Messud.  There’s a great commentary by Messud on why women make up 80 percent of the fiction reading audience in the U.S., yet women writers still are frequently left off best-of lists.  The collection is highlighting talented young women writers.  Messud hastens to make the point, however, that this isn’t about picking writers because they’re women, but rather, putting the spotlight on “talented young writers who just happen to be women.”  Head on over to Guernica and read Elliott’s story, “The Norwegians.” Congratulations, Elliott!
P.S. Also check out One Story author Irina Reyn in conversation with Aleksandar Hemon, in the same issue of Guernica.

The long overdue report on One Story at the Miami Book Fair

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Since I am from Miami and run on what we in Miami like to call “Cuban time,” it is only appropriate that this report on the Miami Book Fair come to you a full two weeks late.

On Sunday, November 15th, I joined up with the very cool Marc Fitten, Editor-in-Chief of The Chattahoochee Review, to man the CLMP booth at the fair. Together we gave out wine and literary journals to unsuspecting passersby.

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About an hour into the afternoon, after several requests for comic books or the location of Elmo’s book signing, I realized we had our work cut out for us. While Marc bellowed out, “GET YOUR LIT MAGS HEERE!” like the best of baseball game vendors, I quietly explained that One Story is a magazine that publishes just one short story every three weeks. One Story is a magazine that publishes just one short story every three weeks. One Story is a magazine…No, it is not for Jehovah’s Witnesses. No, it is not a free pamphlet. Yes, you can have wine, even if you don’t care for short stories. Here, just take some wine. Your welcome. (We gave out so much wine–about two cases–so quickly, I have no pictures to show for it.)

We also sold a few things. One of which was our clever “beach-themed five pack,” which was a hit.*

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Of course, a few One Story fans did stop by. Among them were the lovely staff of Gulfstream, the literary journal at Florida International University, and short story writer Lynne Barrett. OS authors Ben Greenman (“The Tremulant,” Issue# 113), Kate Walbert (“Good Luck,” Issue #71) and Roxana Robinson (“A Perfect Stranger,” Issue #55) also read that day; Roxana was nice enough to come by the booth and say hello and sign copies of her issue. Other authors making appearances included John Hodgman (“Villanova,” Issue #1), Jonathan Lethem, Sherman Alexie and Dan Chaon.

All in all, it was a good Sunday. The weather was great, the free wine was flowing, and then, what Miami event would be complete without mariachis? None!

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Thanks to everyone that came out! Until next year, Elmo. Until next year.

*”A hit,” in this context, meaning they were so well-packaged and beautiful they were to remain on display and not purchased or taken home. Not ever.

Hannah Tinti and One Story authors longlisted for the IMPAC Award!

Congratulations are in order for our beloved editor-in-chief Hannah Tinti and our equally beloved authors,Charles Lambert (Issue #64) and Roxana Robinson (Issue #55). Each of their novels made the longlist for Dublin’s International IMPAC Literary Award–Hannah’s The Good Thief, Charles’s Little Monsters and Roxana’s Cost.

The Award was established by the Dublin City Civic Charter in 1994. Nominations are made by libraries in capital and major cities throughout the world. Titles are chosen on the basis of high literary merit; participating libraries can nominate up to three novels each year for the Award. Previous winners include Edward P. Jones’s The Known World, Orphan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, and David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon. The prize is 100,000 euros.

The shortlist will be announced in March. See the entire 2010 Award longlist here.

One Story in Best American Fantasy 3

Best American Fantasy 3

One Story author Ramona Ausubel’s “Safe Passage” (issue 106) will be included in Best American Fantasy 3: Real Unreal.

Ramona’s story is in good company in the anthology, which is guest edited by Kevin Brockmeier and features a story by Stephen King, as well as stories originally published in Tin House, Kenyon Review and American Short Fiction. The book will be available from Underland Press in January 2010.

The series also announced some exciting updates for BAF’s to come–including Junot Diaz serving as guest editor for an upcoming volume. Starting with BAF4, the series will consider stories published in English in Latin American publications, as well as translations of Latin American writers into English in North American publications. They eventually hope to consider material published in Spanish and Portuguese. Go here for more information about the series, and the  BAF3 table of contents & recommended reading.

Issue #123: Rocky Point, Mexico

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Tanya Rey, our managing editor here at One Story, stepped in as issue editor for #123, “Rocky Point, Mexico,” and so I am turning the introductions over to her capable hands for this wonderful new story. Enjoy! -Hannah Tinti

Many years ago—before email and online social networking—I met my future ex-boyfriend on the phone. I was working as a switchboard operator; he was calling about a bill he’d received. He read me the joke from his Laffy Taffy wrapper and we got to talking. Soon he was calling my toll-free number everyday, we were exchanging letters and our short life stories. By the time we actually met a year later we were nervous and shaky, despite knowing almost everything about each other.

So you can imagine my delight when I first read Caedra Scott-Flaherty’s “Rocky Point, Mexico,” a story about a woman’s initial encounter with the man she’s been dating online. When we (along with the man) first meet the narrator, she is “flesh and bones wrapped in rice paper,” her “kneecaps bobbing up and down in an uncontrollable quiver.” She is frightened and candid, and we know from the onset that we are going to be told a story that goes much deeper than this mere encounter. Not only was I immediately drawn in by the narrative’s unique structure, but I also found comfort in the unflinching honesty and universality related by lines like “Even after so much writing, of trying to squeeze warm flesh from email subject lines, from a quirky lack of punctuation, and one small photo, the things you just can’t know.” The narrator is desperately trying to know something, to absorb enough about one person so that she might meet herself along the way. We slowly learn that she has lost her mother, and that although she is unaware of it, this trip to Mexico is one she must take in order to say goodbye.

At a time when daily exchanges more often involve emoticons than actual displays of emotion, when the shores of our lives are growing closer yet less intimate through email, Facebook and Twitter, it is refreshing to read a story about crossing those barriers into real human experience. For this reason, I thank Caedra for writing “Rocky Point, Mexico,” and I feel confident that she will be telling us stories for years to come.

To read an interview with Caedra Scott-Flaherty about “Rocky Point, Mexico,” click here.